15 July 2015 - Iran - Nuclear programme [fr]
Iran/nuclear programme – Interview given by M. Laurent Fabius, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Development, to the daily newspaper Le Monde -
Paris, 14 July 2015
Q. – How can you guarantee to Israel and the Gulf countries that this agreement is sufficiently “robust”, to use your expression, to prevent Iran from ultimately equipping itself with an atomic weapon?
THE MINISTER – The Iran nuclear issue doesn’t concern only Israel and the Gulf countries: ensuring that Iran can’t equip itself with a nuclear weapon is a concern for the whole international community. Nuclear proliferation and therefore security and peace are at stake.
In order to achieve this goal – “yes to civilian nuclear energy for Iran, no to a nuclear weapon” –, which the French President and I myself have always said governs France’s position, we were especially mindful in these long negotiations of three aspects: clearly limiting Iran’s uranium enrichment capabilities and what it will be able to do in terms of research and development; being able to specifically verify the implementation of its commitments; and providing for a mechanism to automatically reintroduce sanctions in the event of a violation. This line of constructive firmness enabled us to achieve a sufficiently robust agreement, in any case for a period of more than 10 years. In the same spirit we’ll ensure that it’s implemented.
Q. – Do you envisage visiting Tehran soon?
THE MINISTER – It’s entirely possible.
Q. – Does this agreement pave the way for cooperation with Iran on the major regional crises, particularly Syria, Iraq and Yemen?
THE MINISTER – The agreement aims to end one of the most serious and long-running nuclear proliferation crises. It aims for more peace and stability in the Middle East. The region is already explosive enough without the addition of nuclear conflicts. Moreover, if Iran – an important country, a great civilization and a major player in the region – clearly makes the choice of cooperating, we’ll welcome this development, but we’ll judge on results. Its contribution would be useful to help resolve many crises.
Q. – Aren’t you afraid Iran will use the considerable funds recovered through the lifting of sanctions to strengthen Shia militias in the Middle East?
THE MINISTER – That will be one of the tests. And we’ll be especially vigilant about it.
Q. – What are the advances in this agreement compared to the Lausanne agreement in April, which defined the broad parameters of a compromise?
THE MINISTER – We’ve moved from agreement on several principles in Lausanne to an actual, precise, complete agreement in Vienna. This in itself represented a huge diplomatic effort. On the underlying issues, we’ve made progress on, among other things, issues linked to militarization and what’s called the “acquisition path” – i.e. the specific procedure Iran will have to comply with to acquire goods of some sensitivity. We’ve also clarified the issue of the arms and missiles embargo. Above all, it’s about a comprehensive agreement that ends 12 years of controversy and argument. It guarantees the exclusively peaceful nature of the Iranian nuclear programme. And it can, if it’s fully respected, facilitate a normalization of Iran’s international relations. In this respect it can be described as historic.
Q. – Under the terms of this agreement, Iran keeps the right to a regulated nuclear programme and will be able to continue research and development on advanced centrifuges: in reality, doesn’t this amount to kicking the same issue 10 years down the road?
THE MINISTER – Let’s concentrate on some indisputable elements: before this agreement, the breakout time – i.e. the time necessary for Iran to accumulate enough enriched uranium to manufacture a bomb – was two months; this time is increased to more than 12 months by the agreement, and it will be maintained at this level for 10 years. Limitations will remain beyond the 10 years. Moreover, this strictly civilian nuclear programme will be subject to the necessary checks. This in itself is an appreciable result.
Q. – The agreement advocates the lifting of sanctions against Iran. How can you guarantee they’ll be reintroduced in the event of a confirmed violation by Iran?
THE MINISTER – It’s what’s called “snapback”. France worked hard to propose and have adopted a mechanism for the automatic reintroduction of sanctions in the event of Iran violating its obligations. If one of the P5+1 countries (the United States, Russia, China, France, the United Kingdom and Germany) believes Iran isn’t fulfilling its obligations and it [Iran] doesn’t provide a credible explanation, that country will be able to trigger a Security Council vote on a draft resolution reaffirming the lifting of UN sanctions. I grant you that it’s subtle, but it’s the price of making effective compromises on such complex issues.
Q. – In the event of the agreement being violated, this text provides for Iran having a maximum of 65 days before the reintroduction of sanctions: doesn’t this period give Iran the necessary time to conceal its proliferation activities?
THE MINISTER – If one of the six P5+1 countries believes Iran is violating one of its obligations, it refers the matter to the Joint Commission, which includes the Six and also the Iranians. A discussion then begins for a maximum of 35 days. If it’s not convinced, any one of the Six may refer the matter to the Security Council, with a maximum of 30 days then to reintroduce sanctions. It is indeed quite lengthy, but with modern monitoring and verification technologies, it’s not possible to conceal every trace of proliferation activities.
Q. – Does the agreement maintain a total embargo on heavy and ballistic weapons, and [if so,] for how long?
THE MINISTER – This was discussed right to the end. France’s position has been clear and firm on this too: it would be contradictory for the immediate consequence of this agreement to be the lifting of the constraints on Iran in the area of weapons and missiles. So the arms embargo is being maintained for five years and bans on transfers in the ballistic field for eight years.
Q. – Does the agreement authorize the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to visit all the sites, including military ones, without restrictions?
THE MINISTER – An agreement which isn’t verifiable is an agreement which isn’t implemented. So we made sure that Iran applies the IAEA’s highest standards of verification. Added to this is a specific procedure concerning it [Iran]. Access to all the sites will be possible, including the Parchin site, not to try and uncover military secrets but to verify whether or not there has been any reprehensible nuclear activity. I spoke to the IAEA Director General about this several times to make sure that he considered the measure adequate and credible.
Q. – What are the stages of the agreement’s implementation? And do you fear deadlock at the US Congress?
THE MINISTER – The timetable is this: after endorsement by the Security Council a 90-day period begins, during which Iran will have to take various steps to prepare itself for implementing the agreement. The next phase will last six to nine months, during which it will have to implement all its nuclear commitments. Each of these stages will be accompanied by a gradual easing of sanctions. As regards the United States, Congress will have to express its view, and I’ve no particular comment to make on this, other than this, which is common sense: when we evaluate an agreement, we mustn’t do so only in absolute terms, but compare the situation when there’s an agreement with what happens in concrete terms if there’s no agreement.
Q. – Aren’t you afraid that the closer ties observed between France and Saudi Arabia will penalize French companies in the Iranian market?
THE MINISTER – No, for two reasons. Firstly, when we’re talking about eliminating the threat of military nuclear activities, you can’t determine your own country’s position on the basis of commercial considerations: we’re talking about security and peace. Secondly, there will in all likelihood be stiff economic competition in Iran, because everyone is lining up. But don’t forget that our companies have worked with and in that country for a long time, that they excel in several sectors and that they will have strengths to highlight. So I have confidence in them. As for our traditional friendships, there’s no question of giving them up./.